The period between the "second revolution" of the Jacksonian Era and the close of the Civil War in America saw the testings of a nation and its development by ordeal. It was an age of great westward expansion, of the increasing gravity of the slavery question, of an intensification of the spirit of embattled sectionalism in the South, and of a powerful impulse to reform in the North. Its culminating act was the trial by arms of the opposing views in a civil war, whose conclusion certified the fact of a united nation dedicated to the concepts of industry and capitalism and philosophically committed to egalitarianism. In a sense it may be said that the three decades following the inauguration of President Andrew Jackson in 1829 put to the test his views of democracy and saw emerge from the test a secure union committed to essentially Jacksonian principles.
In literature it was America's first great creative period, a full flowering of the romantic impulse on American soil. Surviving form the Federalist Age were its three major literary figures: Bryant, Irving, and Cooper. Emerging as new writers of strength and creative power were the novelists Hawthorne, Simms, Melville, and Harriet Beecher Stowe; the poets Poe, Whittier, Holmes, Longfellow, Lowell, Dickinson, and Whitman; the essayists Thoreau, Emerson, and Holmes; the critics Poe, Lowell, and Simms....
The poetry was predominantly romantic in spirit and form. Moral qualities were significantly present in the verse of Emerson, Bryant, Longfellow, Whittier, Holmes, Lowell, and Thoreau. The sectional issues were debated in poetry by Whittier and Lowell speaking for abolition, and Timrod, Hayne, and Simms speaking for the South. Poe formulated his theories of poetry and in some fifty lyrics practiced a symbolic verse that was to be, despite the change of triviality by such contemporaries as Emerson, the strongest single poetic influence emerging from pre-Civil War America, particularly in its impact on European poetry....Whitman, beginning with the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, was the ultimate expression of a poetry organic in form and romantic in spirit, united to a concept of democracy that was pervasively egalitarian.
In essays and in lectures the New England transcendentalists-- Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and Alcott--carried the expression of philosophic and religious ideas to a high level....In the 1850s emerged the powerful symbolic novels of Hawthorne and Melville and the effective propaganda novel of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Poe, Hawthorne, and Simms practiced the writing of short stories through the period, taking up where Irving had left off in the development of the form,,,,
At the end of the Civil War a new nation had been born, and it was to demand and receive a new literature less idealistic and more practical, less exalted and more earthy, less consciously artistic and more honest than that produced in the age when the American dream had glowed with greatest intensity and American writers had made a great literary period by capturing on their pages the enthusiasm and the optimism of that dream.